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Another great trip to Homer, AK (July 2014)

Cat | Alaska | Sunday, July 27th, 2014

The seaside town of Homer is maybe my favorite place in Alaska so far! It’s a small town on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsual, and is full of fishing trips, art galleries, tasty cafes, and amazing scenery.

Our home away from home this summer was once again the Land’s End Resort with a spectacular beachfront location at the tip of the Homer Spit on Kachemak Bay. We got a suite room (two bedrooms), had a terrific view of the bay so we could watch eagles, boats, and otters going by, enjoyed the spa/hot tub overlooking the bay, and enjoyed a delicious meal in the fancy restaurant. Highly recommend for any trip to Homer!
www.lands-end-resort.com

On our first trip to Homer we did beach hikes and hillside hikes, ate frequently at the Two Sisters Bakery, shopped at the awesome Homer farmers market, visited the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, and more. Somehow we skipped all of the shops on the spit and sadly didn’t have time to go across the bay to Kachemak State Park. This time around we remedied that!

We did our part to support the local economy and spent some quality time on the spit. I’d been enjoying the art of Erik David Behnke and was delighted to find a studio run by his mother where I bought one of his prints. (Erik is a visual artist with Down Syndrome and autism and does wonderful, colorful, whimsical ink drawings). http://www.brownbearproducts.com

We also bought some sweet art from from an illustrator I really like. I already own a book of illustrations by Barbara Lavallee and was delighted to find the Sea Lion Fine Art Gallery in Homer had a number of prints by her. I added one to my collection and happily framed it for Clara’s room when we returned to Seattle. I also bought a pair of pearl earrings from a local jewelry maker who’s name/business is currently escaping me. Very pretty and happy making though! Continuing on our spit adventures and economy boosting, we did margaritas and happy hour snacks on the spit at Harbor Grill Steak & Seafood (overpriced with decent food, you go for the comfy setting and great views). We also ate a dinner of fish and clams and chips, with local Homer brew, at one of the many casual offerings. Good times!

We also booked with Mako’s Water Taxi (at the spit) to cross Kachemak Bay to hike around in Kachemak Bay State Park. We did the Glacier Lake Trail and had a terrific time. Super awesome to see glaciers calving right in front of you, and then return to the trail for gorgeous views across Kachemak Bay! (I was tempted to book a kayaking trip with www.akcoastalstudies.org, but decided with a one year old it wasn’t in the cards for this trip).

The Glacier Lake & Saddle Trails hike, however, was a terrific idea and Clara did just fine being carried around in the Ergo all day. David’s dad isn’t a huge fan of hiking and he definitely enjoyed the lovely route too. The Glacier Lake Trail follows flat terrain through stands of cottonwoods & spruce, and across the dry outwash plain of Grewingk Glacier. It ends at the broad open beaches of Grewingk Glacier Lake where giant chunks of glacier were calving off into the lake and floating across the icy waters. This trail offers superb views of the glacier and its surrounding peaks and was an excellent, easy dayhike for the whole family. Most people get dropped off at the Glacier Spit Trailhead, hike to the lake, hike the Saddle Trail, and get picked up at the Saddle Trailhead. Think we did about 6 miles total from where we were dropped on the beach, eventually getting to the trailhead, hiking to the lake, then across the saddle, to a different pickup location for our water taxi back across the bay. It was gorgeous – full of wildflowers, berries, bear poop, and scenic vistas! And it wasn’t too bad for bringing one non-hiker and for carrying a pretty patient one year old in the Ergo!

We did more hiking another day and enjoyed the beauty and wildflowers of the Wynn Nature Center. We didn’t manage to see any moose on our hikes, but did see a mama and baby moose on the side of the road as we were leaving the parking lot! So fun!

For a casual lunch while wandering town, we ate at Cosmic Kitchen. They had something for everyone’s diverse tastes and their fajita chicken cosmic bowl ($9) was so much food I couldn’t finish it all.

For a slightly fancier dinner, we ate at Fat Olive’s. The fondue appetizer ($13) was a wee bit over the top and much enjoyed by all. David and I split a shrimp pasta ($25) and a Mediterranean salad ($10) – both terrific. And while we probably should’ve cut ourselves off after that, the turtle pie was so amazing we shared it with the table and managed to polished it off too. Let’s hear it for vacations and indulgence!

Many thanks to the good people of Homer for welcoming us tourists with open arms! We continue to love your local foods, local roasted coffee, locally brewed beers, local arts, and local beauty!

My visit to a native village in rural Alaska

Cat | Alaska,United States | Monday, June 16th, 2014

While in Bethel, AK, I took a tiny Cessna flight out to one of the nearby native villages to meet with another one of our partners. The flight was quick, my bush pilot looked to be maybe 18 years old, and the duck tape holding part of the plane in place was charming. I enjoyed the aerial view of the delta on this gorgeous summer day and was happy to scope out the tiny village I was to visit.

Life in the village isn’t easy as there aren’t many jobs and cost of living is high. Oil costs to heat homes, in particular, are incredibly high and it can take an entire month’s wages in the winter just to heat your home. I was greeted repeatedly by enthusiastic drunk, despite the fact villages are dry to try to combat the prevalence of alcoholism. Drownings are a problem in the area where most folks don’t know how to swim yet live along the major river. (My host told me alcohol contributes to many of those drowning deaths he mentioned). This year life was particularly rough as Fish and Wildlife said no salmon fishing (to protect the dwindling numbers in the river), which is a brutal blow to this and every other native village that lives a subsistence lifestyle. Ideally families are able to hunt and get lucky with a moose or caribou to help stock the freezer, and berry picking in the summer is an important time to get out and gather food. Other villages eat beaver, seal, or sealife depending on their location. But salmon is a mainstay for most native villages in the region and the lockdown on fishing was devastating for most families.

My partner there offered to take me on a walking tour of his village, and we spent much of the day walking the tiny town and meeting locals. There were fewer than 150 homes, each on stilts, most with their own salmon smokehouse out back, and many with a tiny sweat lodge in back (barely big enough for one person to crawl/squeeze in). The smokehouses were largely empty, almost entirely bare given the current restrictions on fishing, and are a daily reminder to locals of how difficult life is when you’re a subsistence culture. Both water and heating oil are brought to homes on a tiny trailer connected to a 4×4 ATV, and then transferred to each family’s tank. Among other things, his village has a bingo hall, health clinic (open a few hours each week, but with nurses available by phone), a cemetery, a K-12 schoolhouse (with teachers brought up from the lower 48 states), a part time VPSO (village public safety officer) who flies in for visits on random days, a post office, a church, a newly built community garden, and 2 stores with super expensive groceries and dry goods. There was also a trash dump, a backup generator, some emergency equipment (snowmobile with trailer on back to take sick person into town in winter), some fire equipment (4×4 with water tank trailer), well water building for public water, and some social services (to sign up for food assistance, weatherization help, etc). The village’s administration building boasted a laundromat and snack bar, in addition to the office to book your oil tank refills.

Everyone I met was friendly and often traveling with an elder or child, and most seemed to be related as cousins to someone or another I’d just recently met. My host pointed out various edible plants and herbs as we walked (such as “local rhubarb” that looked and tasted nothing like the rhubarb I grow at home) that I got to pick and sample along our tour. No cafes, coffee shops, or hotels in this village… so I was thankful to have brought my snacks with me for the day’s meals.

Our work meetings went well and I appreciated learning about how they’re supporting local education and public safely initiatives. I’m not sure I’ll have the opportunity to visit another native village anytime soon, and I really appreciated the tour of the village and insights into rural life.

Bethel, AK – the heart of the Y-K Delta

Cat | Alaska,United States | Sunday, June 15th, 2014

In June I made my first trip to Bethel, Alaska. It’s a native village-turned-hub community on the Kuskokwim River (mostly Yup’ik people), and a major hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. While it is the largest community in western Alaska with a major airport, hospitals, and large grocery stores, it’s still only about 6,080 people and you can walk most anywhere in town. I had meetings with a number of nonprofits centered there and in one of the surrounding villages, and was thankful for the opportunity to learn more about rural Alaska. Visiting in mid-June near Solstice means it was light until nearly midnight, which gave me lots of time to explore after an evening arrival or after a full day’s worth of meetings were done.

One of the first things you might notice in Bethel is that the cost of living is astoundingly high. It’s only accessible by plane year round, the ground is frozen tundra, and everything has to be shipped in. A package of Oreo’s was nearly $10, a half sheet cake for a birthday was $40, cheap Chinese food was $19/entree, etc. Not an easy way of life when the costs are so high and the job options are so limited.

Some of the other things you might notice immediately upon arrival are the above ground pipes all over town that pass most homes. Given the tundra is frozen much of the year, most houses are built on short stilts and waterpipes can’t go underground. Also, many people get around town on 4×4 ATVs in summer and on snowmobiles in winter since Bethel is a small town and the distances aren’t prohibitive. Vehicles (ATVs, boats, etc) can be brought in on barges during the summer, and then you’re out of luck for larger purchases the rest of the year when the river freezes.

I stayed at Bentley’s Bed and Breakfast, who bill themselves as a “clean, safe and modern Bed and Breakfast” located on the Kuskokwim Delta River. It was simple, the couple who owned it were very kind, and I liked the location on the river.

I was warned to bring my own food since it wasn’t easy to come by in Bethel. Turns out that’s pretty far off base. There were two large grocery stores and lots of hole in the wall cafes. I did dinner one evening at Dimitri’s, which is supposedly the best food in town. It’s not fancy, they serve Greek and Italian, my meal came quickly, and was totally fine. In Austin, a simple pasta cafe might cost you $8, in Seattle maybe $11, and in Bethel probably at least $20. Another night I ate at the Front Street Cafe as the elders I was dining with wanted Chinese food. It was a hole in the wall along the water front with basic Chinese entrees starting around $17. Might have gotten the same dish in Seattle’s International District for $8, but Bethel requires everything get shipped in so prices for very simple places are much higher than you’d expect if found elsewhere.

While average June temps in Bethel are in the 50s, I visited during a freak heat wave and temps were in the upper 80s. My tiny hotel room overlooking the Kuskokwim River had no AC and no screens on the windows, so I had to alternate between sweltering temps inside or opening the windows and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Needless to say, I got lots of mosquito bites. I also managed to get a sunburn when walking around town exploring Bethel each evening, but the glorious sun was totally worth it and I appreciated the chance to explore. I took off on walks with no map and no destination in mind, but managed to see the lots of port, enjoy eagles soaring over the delta, see kids swimming along the riverside (wished I could’ve joined them!), passed the native hospital, wandered the University of AK building that housed Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, Library, and Museum, explored a grocery store, visited the Senior Center, and more.

Sunny Lake Chelan, WA

Cat | United States | Friday, July 12th, 2013

I recently went away on a girls weekend to Lake Chelan, WA and had a great time exploring the area! Chelan is on the other side of the Cascades Mountains which means it’s generally warm and sunny there, even when Seattle is cool, gray, and rainy. Jess, Caroline, and I usually do a few tent camping and hiking weekends in state or national parks, but with the baby due so soon we figured we’d mix it up this year.

We stayed at the waterfront Campbell’s Resort, where every room has water views of the lake and surrounding hills. It’s a historic resort that’s been there for around 100 years, and they recently completed a $3 million renovation leaving the insides plush and the outside lush. The room even had a fridge, microwave, toaster, plates, etc. so you could make your own meals or opt to go out in their on-site cafe or walk to one of the many nearby options. Campbell’s was very pretty and super comfortable! Each morning we’d open our blinds and sliding door, sit on our patio or walk right down to the chairs on the water’s edge and enjoy the sun and views. We enjoyed their multiple sandy beaches, boat docks, swimming pools, and hot tubs.

Campbell’s Lake Chelan Waterfront Resort
http://campbellsresort.com/
104 W Woodin Ave, Chelan WA 98816
Phone: 800-553-8225 or 509-682-2561
Email: info@campbellsresort.com

During our weekend away we also explored the area’s wine country and Chelan’s quint but thriving downtown.

The Chelan Saturday Farmer’s Market was just across the street from Campbell’s at the Chamber of Commerce parking lot. The cherries there were the best I’ve tasted all season and by far the most affordable too! Local cherries are probably one of my favorite things about summer in the northwest!

We spent some quality time lounging at Benson’s for perhaps the vineyard with the best estate and views, not to mention mighty tasty wines. (Jess and Caroline did tastings while I just tried sips).

Benson Vineyards Estate Winery
http://www.bensonvineyards.com/

At Benson Vineyards, you’ll experience the thrill of a Tuscan villa and the down to earth attitude of a hard working family. Take a seat on the deck and feel like you own the lake or carry a cheese plate down to the lawn for a luxurious snack. Bring your camera as the outdoor space is as perfect as the indoor space and every nook is photogenic. For residents and visitors alike, Benson Vineyards makes everyone feel like they’re on vacation. Family-run and operated, the Bensons work the 28-acre of vineyard, crush their grapes and make all of the winery’s 100% estate grown wine. Find them in the tasting room pouring Curiosity, a floral white blend, or catch one of their wine release parties and taste an immediate collectible.

For a hip winery with a colorful story and delicious offerings, we visited and did a tasting at the Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards too!

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards
http://hardrow.com/
300 Ivan Morse Rd., Manson, WA
Call: 509-687-3000
Email: jumpintheboat@hardrow.com

Spot the red nautical flag and head up the road for an afternoon of delight at Hard Row to Hoe. It’s a lively and intimate tasting room and one look around should clue you to the theme. Once you hear the story behind their name, you’ll get a sense that for a good time, go to Hard Row to Hoe. Even the wallpaper inspires fun. Whether you are inclined toward a dry rosé, a velvety red or a squeal-inducing ice cider, you can find a bit of each. Judy Phelps can sling her wine thief with the best of them and is in constant creative motion. Don Phelps can be found pouring in the tasting room, working the vineyard and transporting grapes during harvest – often simultaneously.

For natural groceries and freshly made crepes from local ingredients, visit the Bear Foods Natural Foods Market & Cafe Creperie! We did a delicious lunch there with gluten free crepes and all three of us left delighted!

Bear Foods Natural Foods Market & Cafe Creperie
http://bearfoodsmarket.com/
125 E. Woodin Avenue, Chelan WA
1-800-842-8049
contact@bearfoodsmarket.com

For a casual and terrific dinner, we had calzones in downtown. Being pregnant has somehow given me a temporary reprieve on my gluten allergy and it’s been fun eating the treats I don’t normally get!

Local Myth Pizza
localmythpizza.com
122 S. Emerson St. Chelan, WA 98816
Phone: 509.682.2914

We were pretty wiped out from a day in the heat, farmers market, swimming in the sun, wine tours, and good eats, but we still managed to make it out for some live music at the local wine bar/coffee shop where the crowd was a mix of energetic locals and visitors, with some bachelorette parties thrown in for fun. The band was playing their hearts out and the dance floor was packed with people doing swing and the jitterbug. Good times!

The Vogue… a liquid lounge
http://www.thevoguelounge.com/
117 Woodin Ave., Chelan, WA 98816
Phone: 509.888.5282
Email: sip@thevoguelounge.com

Sunday was a wonderful day spent focused on lots of local fruit, fruit, fruit! We visited a multiple fruit stands, went to the Anjou Bakery for pastries with local fruits, and even went cherry picking! So much happy making!

Photos from Fairbanks, Alaska

Cat | Alaska,Photos,United States | Sunday, March 17th, 2013

These are long overdue photos from my trip last November to Fairbanks, Alaska. Funny that I never got the winter shots up and I’m already planning a second trip to Alaska for May or June…


North Pole, Alaska is a real town


…and it’s all-Santa, all the time!


So you can drop by Santa’s house


And guests old and young can meet Santa in person. (Indoors, silly! This is just a statue of santa). The real Santa is an old man who sits comfortably in his heated home in a cozy red suit, chatting with guests and taking pictures).


And of course you can meet his reindeer as well. Yes, my first day in Alaska was also my first reindeer sighting!


My first weekend in Alaska was also my first time to see the northern lights. I was getting ready for bed at the hostel when one of the visitors from Japan checked the weather calculations and determined now was an ideal time to see the aurora borealis. Sure enough he was right! I got dressed, grabbed my point and shoot, and snapped a few pics.

“An aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and, on Earth, are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field into the atmosphere.”


It can be hard in November because while it’s peak viewing season, it’s also snowy many nights. If the sky is clouded over with snow clouds, there’s no viewing, so we lucked out that despite it snowing all weekend, the skies cleared just enough at night that we got a great showing! These pics don’t do them justice… next time if I’ve got more gear or time I’ll try to more better shots, maybe out of town somewhere.


In the morning it was back to cloudy… here’s the view from my downtown hotel room.


Fairbanks is a tiny town, so it’s not hard to pick local joints for meals. The Loose Moose cafe was the site of my first caribou burger. Yum! Also brought home some of their reindeer and caribou jerky for the housemates so they wouldn’t feel left out of the adventure.


Signs like this were helpful for locals and outsiders alike. If it’s below 20F, you’re supposed to plug in your car engine all day so your engine doesn’t freeze. This morning was -9 (i.e. 40 below freezing!), so that seemed wise!

Photos from Chena Hot Springs (interior Alaska)

Cat | Alaska,Photos,United States | Saturday, March 16th, 2013

My first trip to Alaska was last November and I spent five days in Fairbanks followed by four days in Anchorage. I somehow forgot to post photos, so here’s the first batch. Enjoy a couple of shot from Chena Hot Springs (about an hour outside of Fairbanks)! When I’m more on the ball, I’ll also post pics from Fairbanks, the northern lights, and Anchorage!


I made plans to spend the weekend outside of town at Chena Hot Springs. They’ve been around for over a hundred years. The resort was low-budget (but costly) and the trip was totally worth it!


The hot springs were hot and so, so great, especially with the snow falling all around and the -20F weather!


Alaska style


No tourist trip would be complete without a visit to the real, legit ice museum


Drinking at the ice bar out of carved ice martini glasses


The grounds has lots of winter options, including tours of the dog kennels and the chance to take out a dog sled team


With this much wilderness, how could I not go for a hike? It was -20F and I was on my own, so I kept it to just a couple of miles and had my camera ready just in case I had any wildlife sightings.


Snow, snow, snow!


Totally happy to be hiking in the snow in my warm, warm Land’s End parka and Sorel snow boots!


While I saw lots of natural beauty, I sadly didn’t spot any winter hare, wolves, or moose…


I did, however, spot a fair number of tracks in the snow that were apparently going the same direction as me.


At the end of the weekend, the drive back into Fairbanks was just as entertaining as the resort itself!


While I definitely didn’t want to *hit* a moose, I wouldn’t have minded seeing one along the roadside. Alas… maybe on my next trip!

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Cat | Canada | Sunday, January 27th, 2013

This weekend David and I went up to Whistler BC with a group of friends to surprise Mez for his birthday! I love the scenic coastal drive up to Whistler, and love time with good people, so it was a good trip. Adding gorgeous scenery right out our window, time for snow shoeing, shared meals with friends, and even a quick trip through Vancouver meant the weekend was a success. :)


Robert and Erika


Pretty birds


Snowshoeing with David out at Lost Lake


Alexis checking out the scene at the lifts


The view from our Pinnacle Ridge condo was amazing – we looked out directly onto the slopes and the ski lift. Truly awe-some.

Snowy adventures in Fairbanks, Alaska

Cat | Alaska,United States | Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Fairbanks is a very small town, maybe 40,000 people, but it’s the biggest town in the interior and has quite a bit going on, relatively speaking. Trivia: the Alaskan “interior” (non-coastal region) is larger than the entire state of Texas! First, I’ll sadly admit that I didn’t see any moose, which was a mixed blessing. I was glad to not encounter one on the highway and risk a car accident, but I would’ve enjoyed seeing one none the less.

On the bright side, I did get to see the aurora borealis (the northern lights)! I’d never seen them before and was crossing my fingers I’d get the chance! The space forecast is strong this year and this time of the year, but sadly if it’s overcast you can’t see them. I was treated to multiple days of snow in both Fairbanks and Anchorage, but the sky did clear two nights in Fairbanks and I was able to see a modest aurora both nights! Hooray! Photos will be posted later… promise!

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
101 Dunkel Street, Fairbanks
(907) 459-3700
Open year round!
http://www.explorefairbanks.com/visitor-information-centers

Don’t let the words “visitors center” fool you. While they do have a small area for brochures for local companies, they have a very large, impressive, and free museum and cultural center! “In addition to trip planning services, there is a theatre showing free films and programs on Alaska’s natural, cultural and visitor history and an exhibit hall featuring 9,000 square feet of museum-quality interpretive displays and dioramas depicting Interior Alaskan landscapes and seasons. The center also offers an artisans’ workshop and demonstration area, an Elders gathering area, cultural and environmental education classrooms, outdoor recreational space, and an Alaska Geographic gift store.”

Also important to note – they’re open 7 days a week year-round, 363 days a year (closed Xmas and Thanksgiving). This is impressive and noteworthy as many “tourist” attractions in Alaska close from Sept-April… it’s not easy to find open museums when the weather is -20F and the tourists have all returned home.

University of Alaska Museum of the North
PO Box 756960, Fairbanks, AK 99775
(907) 474-7505

http://www.uaf.edu/museum/

This museum is located on the top of a hill on the university campus, overlooking the city. It’s a choice location, a beautiful building, and a large collection of rooms and exhibits. Sadly, it closes at 5pm, so I only had 45 minutes to go over my lunch break, but even that period of time was a good intro to the history and culture… native, Russian, European, Spanish, and more. Will need to go back for longer if I get a future Fairbanks trip in my future.

Springhill Suites by Marriott
575 1st Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701
(800) 314-0858
This was a gorgeous hotel, seriously stylish and comfy rooms, with nice views overlooking town and the river. Hotel also has free breakfast, fresh baked cookies, a fancy restaurant, fireplace and sitting area, pool, fitness center, etc. Pretty impressive for a small town.

Loose Moose Cafe
3450 Airport Way, Fairbanks
Has huge burgers made from buffalo, beef, or caribou meat (and hotdogs made of pork or reindeer!). It seems like it’d be touristy with a menu like that, but it’s so not touristy. It’s more low budget/dive in a red and yellow hasn’t been decorated since the 1960s with creepy circus and clown decor theme. That said, my sweet potato fries ($2.50) were perfect and my caribou burger ($8.75) was tasty. Frozen meat is also for sale should you need to take home some buffalo, reindeer, or caribou sausage. I brought home some reindeer and caribou jerky to share with the housemates. Mmmm…

Sam’s Sourdough Cafe
3702 Cameron Street Fairbanks, AK 99709
(907) 479-0523
The travelers at the hostel recommended this diner for the most amazing breakfast ever. They loved the sourdough pancakes, reindeer sausage, and biscuits and gravy. Breakfast and lunch are apparently packed with long lines, so I went for dinner when it was easy to get a table. (I did order a side of sourdough pancakes so I could sample a bite. I found them unusual but enjoyable (they were indeed sourdough – definitely not your sweet, standard pancake). You can get reindeer and eggs for $11 or chicken fried steak for $11, and a whole host of breakfast or dinner entrees. I went twice for breakfast foods – once because it was near the book store and the other time because it was the closest place to the museum. While the food was decent, the patrons seated to the sides of my table on both trips were consistently ignorant (with many uninformed comments, some racist comments, and some comments about how women shouldn’t be given the right to vote. Yikes.) Staff were consistently polite, so I’m hoping it was just bad luck/bad timing and that the establishment doesn’t actively seek out such a crowd. It was hard to hold my tongue, but didn’t think lashing out at strangers would be an effective model for education. If that crowd was always there, I probably wouldn’t be able to eat there… I’d just get too agitated.

Gulliver’s Books
www.shopgulliversbooks.com
3525 College Road Fairbanks, AK 99709
(907) 474-9574
This place came highly recommended by the travelers in the hostel… guess it’s kind of the Powell’s Books of the north but much smaller. I’d tried to order a book from Amazon Prime to ship to my hotel in Anchorage, and found that Prime in Alaska can mean 7 days free shipping (not 1-2 day free shipping). Turns out this little store was perfect and had the exact book in stock (a Seattle author on natural child birth that my sister in law recommended). Local, independent business to the rescue!

Brewsters Pub
http://www.brewstersalaska.com
This place reminded me of the Latona Pub or Elysian. I didn’t sample any local beers, but their Southwest chicken salad ($12) filled my craving for a gluten free meal with lots of veggies.

Billies backpackers hostel in Fairbanks
http://www.alaskahostel.com/
This small, simple hostel had $30 dorm beds and a genuinely friendly international crowd. It had room for maybe 10-15 people max, mostly in bunk beds. There were PhD students working at nearby Univ of Alaska Fairbanks, travelers from around Europe, a guy from Japan who comes every year to hunt for the northern lights, and a very sweet local who I wanted to hug within minutes of meeting him. Thanks to the guy from Japan and his studying the weather patterns, I was alerted to the aurora and got to see it last night once the snow stopped! Amazing! My checklist for Alaska (hot springs and northern lights) is now complete! Ah, simple pleasures!

Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska
http://www.santaclaushouse.com
The town of North Pole is decked out as a Christmas wonderland year round with candy cane light posts, businesses with Christmas themed buildings, and streets named things like Santa Claus Lane, St. Nicholas Drive, Snowman Lane, and Kris Kringle Drive. The Santa Claus House has been around since 1952, has all of the North Pole gifts you could ever need, has live reindeer out back, and the world’s biggest Santa. With a kitchy tourist trap like that, how could I resist at least driving through town, greeting the reindeer, and getting a photo in Santa’s sleigh?

Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream
372 Old Chena Pump Road, Fairbanks, AK
http://www.hotlicks.net
Local, small batch ice cream from Fairbanks. Gay, black, liberal staff with homemade ice cream made my week. :)

Lemongrass Thai
388 Old Chena Pump Road
Fairbanks, AK 99709
lemongrassalaska.com
Alaska has lots of Thai places all over, it seems, and this one was a lucky find. The owners were friendly and they had many longtime/regular customers there whose kids they knew by sight or name. They had traditional Thai dishes as well as many dishes from the north like Kao Soi ($13) – noodles that are everywhere in Chaing Mai but much harder to find in Seattle. Yum (and spicy!)!

Siam Dishes
338 Old Steese Highway
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Not much for ambiance, but they had tasty basil chicken for $9.95.

The Diner
244 Illinois St
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Simple, classic, old school diner. Tasty turkey melt for $7.95. Yes, I ate some gluten as sandwiches seemed to be the only option for lunch. Happily, a little bit doesn’t destroy me.

Around Okanogan, WA

Cat | News | Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I’ll post more pics later from Omak and Tonasket, but for now will add a quick plug for the The Salmon Creek Coffee Company in Okanogan, WA. This small coffee shop had organic coffees and teas, had gluten free lunch items (rare!), and the staff were super friendly.
Salmon Creek Coffee Company
134 S 2nd Ave, Okanogan, WA 98840
Phone: (509) 826-1533


On the drive from Twisp to Okanogan – gorgeous blue skies out one direction


And out the other window, super smokey skies from nearby forest fires

On the way between Seattle and Twisp (100 NE of Seattle) is the tiny town of Marblemount, WA – the self described “Gateway to the American Alps.” Technically Marblemount might not even be a town, it’s a “census-designated place (CDP) in Skagit County” with a population of 203 people. My friend Steve hails from Marblemount and I was so excited to finally pass through town that I decided to stop for lunch.

Que Car BBQ
http://www.quecarbbq.com/
Marblemount, WA
I went to the Que Car BBQ, located in a restored 1944 caboose, just off the side of the highway. For $7.25 you can get a great lunch with tasty BBQ smoked on site. Also, there was a little helper maybe 7 years old with some of the best manners I’ve ever seen on a child. And while you wait to pick up your order, you can sit on the picnic benches and enjoy the mountain views surrounding town. Recommended!

Chena Hot Springs Resort (Fairbanks, Alaska)

Cat | United States | Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Chena Hot Springs
Fairbanks, AK 99712
(907) 451-8104
http://www.chenahotsprings.com

About an hour and a half outside of Fairbanks, the road dead ends at Chena Hot Springs. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive there, the snowy landscape, the geothermal hot springs, and the laid back atmosphere of the place. The hot springs are the main attraction and have had visitors since 1905. There are four pools and tubs and one large boulder lined lake, all filled with water from the natural springs that comes in at 156F. Compare that to today’s outside temps of 9F and the water was positively delightful! (I was toasty warm hanging out in the lake and the outside air was cold enough that my hair froze into sharp hard spears on my head!). Today I spent some time hiking the trails in the 156 acres of wilderness around Chena. Sadly, no sign of beavers or moose. On the bright side, gorgeous and peaceful to walk among the gently falling snow. I was wishing my hiking partners Caroline and Jess were here!

The resort itself wasn’t fancy and it had options for any budget. Rooms were $100-$300. You could enjoy the springs (included) or scenery (lots of hiking trails), tour of the ice museum ($15), tour the sled dog kennels ($20), or even do flightseeing (from their tiny airport, $$$). Want a nice meal? Seafood or steaks for $35. Mid-range salads/sandwiches options for $12. Or budget travelers can get microwaveable pizza/burgers/cup of ramen noodles for $2-3.

All in all an enjoyable weekend adventure to welcome me to Alaska!

The mountain hamlet of Twisp, WA

Cat | News,Photos,United States | Thursday, September 20th, 2012

My September work trip took me into Okanogan County to visit the towns of Twisp, Okanogan, and Tonasket. All three are quite small but have lots of great community organizations doing important work. The visit was brief given work/life time constraints, but it definitely makes me want to go back for a social visit to explore on my own.

Twisp, WA is in the mountains and forest, has less than 1,000 people, and has great hiking in the summer and world class cross country skiing in the winter. (Apparently many Olympians come from Twisp and/or retire to Twisp). The town also has a delightful little new hotel right on the river, a pub, a bakery, natural foods coop, a couple of other bars and cafes, many artists studios, yoga, and two playhouses. I was thoroughly impressed with their hippy flavor and cultural offerings, especially for such a small town! (My father grew up in a town of a similar size in the rural midwest and his town of under 1,000 people didn’t have any artists studios on main street, no theatres, no yoga, no natural foods coops. Neat to see what a small community can support (in addition to the agriculture, the feed store, and the hardware shop they also rely on).

Tappi (Italian restaurant)
201 S Glover St
Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-3345
http://www.tappitwisp.com
You don’t always expect to find fancy-ish restaurants in tiny towns, but Tappi’s is famously good rustic Italian dining with a friendly owner in a small, cozy setting. While the menu was small, they did have a few meat, salad, and polenta options for gluten free people like me. (If they could substitute in a gluten free pasta into a couple of their dishes then I’d be even more excited).

Twisp River Suites

140 Twisp River Road Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-0100
www.twispriversuites.com
Brand new hotel offers many comforts, right in town overlooking the river. They offer fully equipped kitchens, in-suite washer/dryers, a lovely breakfast, occasional live music, and a great patio with heaters so you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery all around.


Hotel


View from my room

Cinnamon Twisp
116 North Glover Street Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-5030
www.cinnamontwisp.com
When I asked friends on Facebook what I should do in Twisp, the answer was overwhelmingly votes for hiking and for visiting the bakery! I was there for all day work meetings, so I didn’t have time for hiking. However, I did make time to stop by there to pick up a chocolately oat bar – yum! Highly recommended, especially for people who can eat wheat!

Blue Star Coffee Roasters

3 Twisp Airport Road Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-2583
www.bluestarcoffeeroasters.com
The national Coffee Fest 2012 competition picked Twisp’s Blue Star Coffee Roasters as America’s Best Espresso based on flavor complexity, mouthfeel and appeal, and aftertaste. I drank it while in town and picked up some from their roasting HQ to take home with me.

Twisp River Pub & Brewery
State Route 20 Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-6822
www.methowbrewing.com
The Twisp River Pub was the source of two of my meals while in town, has frequent live music, and was definitely the most happening place around. The food was well praised by my companions and their beers were popular. (My view was a bit skewed… their menu was pretty limited for a gluten free person who doesn’t drink beer (even their pad thai used wheat noodles and even their tacos used flour tortillas). I’ll withhold judging them (either good or bad), but suspect they’d be great for people who aren’t me. With a few tweaks of their menu, it’d be lovely.


Giant awesome public art in Twisp, WA


Giant awesome public art in Twisp, WA

Port Townsed, WA

Cat | News,United States | Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

My work travels are bringing me to the beautiful, seaside village of Port Townsend for three days. It’s quite pretty any day of the year, surrounded by water, and even more gorgeous in the summer. Not much time for sightseeing since I’m working long days, so my trip report is brief so far. Spent some time this evening wandering downtown and uptown, and walked along the waterfront as well. Enjoyed great views and a few live bands doing a free concert in a downtown waterfront park.

The Cup
-A breakfast and lunch diner with history and nice views. Lunches around $10-12.
464 West Sims Way
Port Townsend, WA 98368
(360) 379-9059

The Bayview Cafe
-Another diner with history and nice waterfront views. Lunches around $10.
1539 Water Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368
360-385-1461

Muskan Indian Food
-Home to seriously tasty palak paneer and enormous portion sizes compared to any place in Seattle (and only $10)! I had to stop myself from eating the whole entree as it was so delicious.
2330 Washington Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368
(360) 379-9275

Harborside Inn
-The Harborside Inn is a renovated motel on the waterfront in Port Townsend, with waterfront views of the fishing and sail boats in the marina.
330 Benedict Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368
(360) 385-7909

Enjoy a few quick pictures!


The WA State Ferry system hard at work


Legit fishing and crabbing town


View from my cheap hotel room isn’t too shabby

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